My friend Emma and I try to take one big trip together every year — we’ve done San Francisco, Key West, a roadtrip through the Deep South, Charleston, Memphis + Oxford, and, most recently, Hawaii. We like to joke that we’ve drank at bars east of, west of, and on the Mississippi.
We’re both on a mission to get to all 50 U.S. States, so earlier this year, as we were brainstorming where to go, we decided we needed to head to the heartland and cross off some of the “flyover states.” (After taking this trip, though, I would never call these states such — and I hope you’ll see why throughout the recaps of our trip!) We initially were looking to fly into North Dakota and make our way down to Oklahoma, but after looking at flights, the driving routes, and the amount of time we could take off work, we determined it was too much ground to cover on this trip.
So, after taking another look at trusty ol’ Google Maps, we landed on the following plan:
- Thursday: Fly into Omaha, Nebraska and spend the rest of the day exploring.
- Friday: Eat breakfast on Friday in Council Bluffs, Iowa, right across the Missouri River from Omaha, before driving the five hours to Wichita, Kansas, where we’d spend the rest of the day.
- Saturday: Enjoy breakfast in Wichita, Kansas before driving the two hours to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where we’d spend the rest of the day.
- Sunday: Fly home from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma City.
While we had a lot of ground to cover, we ended up spending ~24 hours in each of the cities we visited (except for Council Bluffs, Iowa, which was more of a bonus stop that allowed us to cross off another state!), and felt like we had enough time in each to hit the highlights in each place. All of these cities, however, definitely had enough to do that you could make a weekend trip out of each of them if you wanted to spend more time in one place instead of making a Great American Roadtrip out of them like we did.
We started the trip off on a high note in Omaha, Nebraska! (And yes, so many people we know asked us how we ended up on vacation in Omaha, Nebraska, after visiting Waikiki Beach last year — but let me tell you, there’s fun to be had no matter where you go.) I had heard great things about Omaha before I visited from some acquaintances and — randomly — from an article I read years ago in a doctor’s office about how it’s a great mid-size city, but admittedly, other than associating Omaha with Warren Buffet, steaks, and the College World Series, I didn’t know many specifics about “the gateway to the West.” During my research ahead of the trip though, I came to hypothesize that Omaha would be our kind of place — and luckily, I was right.
HOW TO GET THERE & GETTING AROUND OMAHA —
Emma and I were flying in from our respective cities — DC for me, NYC for her. When we started planning our trip, we looked for destinations that had direct flights for both of us. We quickly realized that we could both land in Omaha, Nebraska around the same time, and in the morning, which was key, because then we’d have the rest of the day to explore. My flight from DCA to OMA was a smooth ride, and about two-and-a-half hours from wheels up to wheels down.
Because we were going on a road trip, we rented a car that we picked up at OMA, and then dropped it off at the end of our trip in OKC. We realized that some rental car companies don’t let you pick up and drop off the car in different locations, but luckily, Avis allowed us to do so — and, not only that, rented us a White Ford Bronco for our journey!
Once we drove our rental car from the airport to our hotel, we didn’t need it again while we were in Omaha. Because we stayed in the Old Market — more on that below — we were able to walk everywhere, which was very convenient and made our time in Omaha extra enjoyable.
WHERE TO STAY —
It’s no secret I am a Marriott loyalist, so when it came to booking hotels for this trip, the first place I turned was the Bonvoy app. After looking at what our options were in Omaha, we decided to book The Farnam, a Marriott Autograph Collection hotel, and I am so glad we did! It’s one of my favorite hotels I’ve ever stayed at.
From the moment we pulled up and the valet guy ran out to greet us, the staff at this hotel was so welcoming. The bellhop wouldn’t let us touch our bags, personally showed us to our room, and then came back with two glasses of champagne and provided some great restaurant recommendations. Our room was super clean, very stylish, offered a huge bathroom, and extremely well-appointed — there were even umbrellas in the closet we could use during our stay.
Another huge contributing factor of what makes The Farnam the hotel you should stay at when you’re traveling to Omaha is the location. It’s just a block off The Old Market, which is a vibrant neighborhood spanning about 12 blocks that offers a great mix of restaurants, bars, and shopping — meaning there’s so much to do just steps away from The Farnam. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, The Old Market was primarily a warehousing district dealing in agricultural and industrial goods. These warehouses eventually were abandoned, until it was turned into an arts and entertainment district in the 1970s, preserving the historic brick buildings and charming cobblestone streets. We spent much of our afternoon and evening enjoying The Old Market!
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK —
We had some amazing meals — including the best one of the trip — in Omaha! Here’s where we ate and drank:
Jams Old Market — located right in the Old Market, they serve up classic American fare for breakfast and lunch, and apparently, do amazing themed cocktails during the College World Series! We stopped in for lunch after we checked into the hotel, and the food was incredible and generously portioned. We split the fried ravioli and then I had a huge southwestern style salad with a glass of champagne — truly one of my favorite combinations.
Ted & Wally’s Ultra Premium Ice Cream — what’s a Great American Roadtrip without some ice cream?! I stopped in here for an afternoon treat, and it felt like a nostalgic ice cream shop in the best way. They had all different flavors of homemade ice cream and a wide variety of toppings. I went with my all-time favorite order: vanilla with rainbow sprinkles in a cup. Nothing better!
La Buvette — this cute wine bar was recommended by our bellhop, and I am so glad he put it on our radar because it was the perfect spot for a pre-dinner drink. It’s a charming and cozy French-style wine bar in the Old Market with an extensive — and very affordable — wine list. (Most of our glasses were only $5 or $6!) They have a full menu, but we split a cheese + charcuterie board, which was delicious and came with bread and butter that I’m still thinking about.
801 Chophouse at the Paxton — we couldn’t go to Omaha and not go to a steakhouse, and our dinner at 801 Chophouse ended up being the best meal of the entire trip! Omaha was a major livestock and meatpacking hub in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and its world-famous Union Stockyards helped transform Omaha into one of the largest livestock markets in the world. The city is still extremely proud of this history, and that was very evident at 801 Chophouse at The Paxton. The service was incredible, and the food was amazing — they brought us warm, fresh bread to start, and then Emma and I both did filet mignon with béarnaise, and split the macaroni and cheese, broccolini, and mashed potatoes topped with — wait for it — Boursin cheese. I can’t recommend dining here on your trip to Omaha enough!
WHAT TO DO —
There was plenty to do and explore in Omaha! Here’s how we spent our time:
Exploring The Old Market — as mentioned above, The Old Market is an incredible arts and entertainment district you need to explore if you’re in Omaha!
Shop at Jackson Street Booksellers — this is one of my new favorite bookstores in the U.S.! I stumbled in on it while exploring the Old Market while Emma was napping, and as soon as she woke up, took her back there with me because I knew she’d love it, too. It’s an amazing second-hand bookstore with multiple rooms of floor-to-ceiling books for all ages across all genres. I ended up buying nine books that I mostly sourced from the American history section — and the only reason I didn’t buy more is because I had to fit them all in my carry on. (It’s truly a miracle they fit!)
Enjoying the Gene Leahy Mall — located right in downtown Omaha across the street from The Farnam, the Gene Leahy Mall is an amazing urban park featuring lush green spaces, a lagoon, splash pads for kids, and plenty of walking paths. It also offers stunning vistas of the Omaha skyline. We were there on a Thursday afternoon in the summer, and it was bustling with families and children — it would also be a great place for a picnic!
Walking the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge — this was one of my favorite things we did in Omaha because you can be in two states at once: Nebraska and Iowa! This is a beautiful pedestrian suspension bridge that spans the Missouri River that divides Nebraska and Omaha, and about halfway over the bridge, there’s a marker on the concrete letting you know where you cross the state line. The bridge also offers some beautiful vistas of downtown Omaha.
Other activities that came highly recommended in Omaha include visiting The Durham Museum, catching a game at Charles Schwab Field — where they play the College World Series, visiting the Joslyn Art Museum, touring the Joslyn Castle + Gardens, and visiting the Heartland of America Park at The Riverfront.
A QUICK TRIP TO IOWA —
En route to Wichita, Kansas, our second stop on our summer 2023 Great American Roadtrip, we drove over a bridge crossing the Missouri River into Iowa and headed to Council Bluffs for breakfast. As mentioned previously, Emma and I are both on a mission to get to all 50 U.S. States, so not going to Iowa — a new-to-us state — when we were so close would have been a huge miss. I’d definitely like to get back to a proper stay in Iowa at some point, especially because I’ve heard great things about Des Moines.
Since we were on a Great American Roadtrip, we wanted to enjoy an American classic: Cracker Barrel. And so that’s exactly where we ate in Council Bluffs, Iowa. It reminded me of my childhood in the best way — and, of course, I had to stock up on some stick candy for the drive ahead of us from Iowa back into Nebraska and then down into Kansas.
We loved our time in Omaha, Nebraska — and I would love to get back one day to go to the College World Series! If you have any questions about our trip, please don’t hesitate to drop a comment below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.